(Springfield, IL) The amount of exercise I can get at the fair normally offsets some of the yummy goodness that I consume as I make my way around the 360 acre fairgrounds on a given day. As some of you may or may not know, I tweaked my knee last weekend at the LOC Football Draft and was on a crutch until Wednesday. I missed Veteran’s Day last Sunday at the fair because I was not mobile due to my knee being locked up. I nursed it all week and took it easy because I knew I had to cram as much time as possible into the fair this weekend. Well, after being crutch free for a bit I decided to take Friday off work to (get my yard work done) and also to get an afternoon of knee brace supported exercise and more importantly getting my yearly fix of fair food.
I arrived on the north end of Springfield at Neal’s parking lot at about 2:15 PM. We like parking at Neal’s because they’re always an even $5 bucks and they have a row up front for pickup truck drivers to back our trucks in close to the fair. They also do a flat fee for the duration of the fair for like $20…great deal if you go there often. Neal’s is right behind the St. Al’s lot which lowered their price to $5 this week to compete with Neal’s and they were packed… which left me a spot right up front in “pickup row” at Neal’s.
I made the block and a half walk from Neal’s to the fairgrounds and my knee was feeling pretty good. Someone had a mini flea market set up across from the main gate by the sidewalk next to the tavern that sits on the corner of Sangamon and 11th. It was cluttered and hard to get through. Who gave that jamoke a permit pile his junk along the sidewalk here? Just a bad idea. Anyway, after I feebly scooted through the sidewalk sale my appetite was primed and the fair was at my fingertips.
There’s always something special about entering the fair through the main gate. There are always Illinois State troopers on duty with their flat brimmed campaign covers
manning the gate. When you walk onto the grounds you are immediately greeted by a 30 foot statue of old honest Abe with his rail-splitting ax. It’s a great photo-op which I took advantage of, as usual. Hi Abe…say cheese! Click.
On the right as you stroll into onto the grounds is the “Big Slide”. A 40 foot tall, 130 foot long yellow monstrosity that nearly every fair goer under the age of 30 has slid down once or twice at the fair since 1968. For the record, I’ve slid down it once, with my son Adam and I can tell you that 300 pounds of momentum can take you through the landing zone and into the fence. Enough said.
I have a good amount of favorites at the fair as far as food goes but one of my “honey holes” is the Ethnic Village. This is a section of the fair with booths from all over the world offering dishes from around the globe. The booths reppin’ the world this year are Greek, Cuban, Polish, German, Cajun, Indian, Brazilian, Mexican, Jamaican, Italian, Romanian, English, French and Filipino. I usually opt for at least the jerk chicken dinner from the Jamaican booth. Last year I went Brazilian and didn’t regret it. This year I led off with a sandwich from the Cuban booth. Pork with white cheese on ciabatta with a spicy mayo. The pork was succulent and juicy. I think the cheese was swiss… I should have asked. There were also caramelized onions on it which were very sweet and meshed with the pork so well. I washed it down with a Negra Modelo and it was glorious. After going Cuban/Mexican for supper I decided I needed some of that exercise I previously mentioned and headed off toward the Grandstand area in search of some Looosianna shrimp.
On the way I made a short detour into the Dairy Building to get a gander at the 2013 version of the Butter Cow, For those who don’t know about the butter cow, it’s a cow sculpted from over 500 pounds of unsalted butter. It is usually sculpted in a “barn scene” with a few other small small animals. This year’s cow has birds, butterflies, a bullfrog and what looks like a guinea pig or muskrat. My normal routine in the dairy building is to first go ogle the butter cow for a while. I like to fantasize about rolling hot, sweet corn on the cob across the back of the butter cow, shaking sea salt across the cobs and then absolutely smashing the corn like a beaver on a tree. MMMMmmmmmm. I normally walk out of the dairy building with a fresh cream puff in hand, but I passed today.
On the way to my next stomach stop I visited the Illinois Fire Museum. There are numerous artifacts from throughout Illinois firefighting history. One of my favorite things about this museum was the grave of Sparky the dog. A small headstone surrounded by flowers marked the grave. I walked past this museum dozens of times and I never noticed this before. Clearly this was a beloved pet at a fire station but I don’t know the details of it. I wonder which city the dog was from. Springfield or somewhere nearby? Chicago? Maybe I’ll look into it. Maybe not.
I headed down Grandstand Avenue, passing your typical corn dog and lemon shakeup stands along the way. There are a few biggies I walked past that I will probably hit up tomorrow or Sunday. Standbys such as Vose’s corndogs, Culler’s Fries, Sutter salt water taffy, Taft ribeyes and Coleman’s cozy dogs. My target was past all of these booths. I was on a mission to get some shrimp on a stick from Cajun Unlimited’s stand. Sandwiched in between the plump shrimp are onion petals which are also batter dipped like the shrimp. The batter is Cajun spicy and delicious. I opted for the stick instead of the pie tin because I still had plans on additional items to eat later. I drizzled some Tabasco sauce down the stick for an added bite and I was not disappointed. If you like shrimp and are within driving distance of the state fair, I’d suggest you roll over and get yourself a pie tin full. You’ll certainly be glad you did.
Across the street from Cajun Unlimited are some horse barns. I decided to walk through and see what I could see in the barns. They were full of Tennessee walkers and Arabians. Both species seemed smallish but where very regal looking horses. They seemed to enjoy the visitors and would walk up and beg for a bite of my shrimp on a stick or a scratch on the nose.
I wish I would have a chance to see these horses perform. I always love to see the horse shows at the fair, whether it be dressage to draft horses. I just love seeing these animals move, The coolness factor of horses are way up there. They’re kinda like guitars… just cool no matter what they are doing.
My next stop at the other end of the horse barns on Coliseum Lane was Pat and Mike’s Corner for a cheese on a stick. Pat and Mike are no longer running the stand, They sold it to their ex son in law in 2010 but the menu has remained the same. They sell an excellent lemon shakeup here but the menu item I’m after is the fried cheese on a stick. It’s a savory brick of american cheese dipped in corn batter and deep fat fried to perfection. It is one of my must haves at the fair and if I don’t have it I am extremely disappointed in myself for not making the time to get this once a year treat. It’s probably been 10 or 11 years since I missed out on this hot glob of goodness and I don’t plan on missing out again.
After the cheese I was really getting full. So it was time to walk it out.
The past few years my father in law, John, has come to Athens during the fair and he usually takes my boy Adam each day to ride the rides and do pretty much whatever the
fair offers. I headed out to the carnival midway to find them. Along the way I heard the smooth sounds of what sounded like Elvis Presley singing the Sinatra standard, My Way. I followed the music into the Miller tent. This is one of the beer tents where you can get a semi-cold beer and listen to live music. I sat and listened to a few songs and I have to give Elvis Himselvis (Rick Dunham) credit. He sounds exactly like Elvis and he kinda looks like him too. The older, heavier version. That being said, dude was still worth listening to. He had a nice crowd in the Miller tent for it being 3:15 on a weekday. A lot of older folks in there. I know m father in law would have enjoyed it.
I finally ran into my crew at the Pharaoh’s Fury ride. Adam was on his seventh consecutive ride on the boat and was chomping at the bit to take me over and show me he wasn’t afraid to ride the Freak Out, which is easily the scariest ride at the fair.
Yeah, he’s a daredevil now. So he went on to go back and ride the Pharaoh’s Fury about two dozen more times in a row. Not exactly the amount of activity I thought I’d get walking around to the different rides but it was something. In the meantime we all started getting hungry again so we headed for the Fried What! stand.
We ordered fried green tomatoes, fried pickles, fried oreo cookies and a fried twinkie. I had sampled the fried pickles from Fried What! several times before. They’re good. Dill chips with just enough batter and they go really well with an order of the tomatoes. Thick sliced green tomatoes battered in the same stuff as the pickles. The batter for the veggies at Fried What! is outstanding. It has red pepper and a hint of garlic which adds just a touch of seasoning to the veggies underneath.
The fried Oreos and Twinkie were very good as well. They’re fried in a sweet “cozy” or pancake style batter and the only negative I can give about these treats other than the fact that they are not healthy is that the doggone powdered sugar they sprinkle on them gets everywhere. Adam and I looked like Tony Montana on a serious coke binge and sharing the Twinkie and Oreos but I have to say, it was worth the mess.
I’m looking forward to a couple of more trips to the fair over the weekend. Maybe, if my stomach can recover.